The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department have agreed to settle a lawsuit claiming LGBTI inmates were confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day.
They were also allegedly prohibited from taking part in jail programs. The decision was taken on 15 August and still needs to be approved by U.S. District Court in Riverside. If so, it would mark another victory for the ACLU in its battle for equal treatment of inmates in Southern California jails.
The 2014 lawsuit shed a light on the unfair treatment of gay, bisexual, trans and intersex inmates at San Bernardino County jail. The plaintiffs were housed in the so-called county’s Alternative Lifestyle isolation tank.
Despite sheriff’s officials had claimed the isolation was to protect inmates from harassment, LGBTI inmates complained their removal from activities could compromise their life out of prison.
LGBTI inmates couldn’t take part in special programs
Lynn Price is a transgender woman and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She said she would have participated in the General Education Development (GED) program offered at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga if she had the opportunity.
‘So when I got out, I would be able to do something. I’d be ready for society,’ she said.
But Price and other LGBTI men and women had to stay in their cells for all but an hour a day. They were also denied access to the jail’s job training, educational, drug rehabilitation, religious and community re-entry programs.
Price explained they all experienced discrimination.
‘Everybody else, all the non-gay people, they could do the things they wanted to do. But us, there was nothing we could do.’
ACLU officials confirmed the Alternative Lifestyle Tank housed 600 people between 2012 and 2018.
‘It was a very lonely thing’
Price was in her 50s when police arrested her for narcotics possession in 2012. She was wearing makeup, a dress and heels at the time of arrest.
At the West Valley Detention Center, Price said she was classified as an LGBTI inmate and placed on virtual lockdown. She explained she had only an hour a day to shower, make a phone call or watch television.
‘It was a very lonely thing. It kind of tends to wear you down,’ she said.
Upon being released in 2014, Price joined a lawsuit against the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department by former Indiana sheriff’s deputy Dan McKibben. A gay man, McKibben, too, spent 23 hours a day in his cell and couldn’t participate in a work program.
According to McKibben, who died in 2016, sheriff’s deputies beat up and verbal abused LGBTI inmates. Price said she experienced the same kind of verbal discrimination.
The plaintiffs might receive $1 million
‘The [San Bernardino County] jail maintains the discrimination folks experienced was for their own safety,’ ACLU Southern California attorney Brendan Hamme told sbsun.com.
‘But jails have an obligation to keep everyone safe while providing equal access to opportunities in jail.
‘No one should be led to choose between their safety and their equal rights.’
According to the terms of the agreement, LGBTI inmates will have more housing options and a broader access to programs.
Furthermore, jail staffers will receive special training. The county also agreed to pay $1 million to plaintiffs. The amount will be split between those incarcerated in the Alternative Lifestyle Tank from 2012 to 2018, as well as attorney’s fees.
Price, who has worked at an Ontario motel since her release, commented on the settlement. She said she’s glad she was able to help other LGBTI inmates in their struggle for equal treatment.
‘Somebody had to speak for those who didn’t know what to say,’ she told sbsun.com
GSN has reached out to San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for comments.